Star winger Martin St. Louis on fire for Tampa Bay Lightning

The star winger leads the Tampa Bay Lightning with 30 points (15-15) in 24 games. He didn’t get to 30 points last season until Boxing Day – 35 games into the season.

And he’ll be the first to admit he was feeling the heat after signing a US$31-million, six-year deal before last season on the heels of winning the NHL’s MVP award.

“Well, I think last year, after coming off the lockout, obviously having won the Cup the year before, personal accolades, I think I put a little too much pressure on myself,” St. Louis said Monday on a league conference call. “I didn’t get off to a good start, then I started putting pressure more and more. It ended up backfiring on me.”

The 31-year-old native of Laval, Que., ended up with 61 points (31-30) in 80 games, not bad for most players, but a 33-point drop from his breakout 2003-04 season.

“I finished last year strong,” said St. Louis. “I was trying to carry that into the summer, my off-ice workouts, carry that into this year. I didn’t start strong this year, but I was playing much better than I was at the time last year. I figured, just keep going, it’s a matter of time.”

After collecting only one point in his first six games, St. Louis has exploded for 29 over his last 18.

St. Louis was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday after leading all scorers with nine points (4-5) in four games.

Teammate Vincent Lecavalier has also been dynamite this season and is second on the team with 26 points (10-16) in 24 games.

And now the third member of the star Tampa triplets, Brad Richards, appears to have turned his season around after a slow start. After collecting eight points (1-7) in 11 games in October, Richards has 13 points (8-5) in 13 November games.

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St. Louis figures Richards, like him, had to adjust after signing his own monster contract last spring ($39 million over five years).

“I think he’s a guy that really cares about his play, puts a lot of pressure on himself,” said St. Louis. “I think he’s getting his game going recently. He’s a good player. He’s going to have success the way we all know he can play.

“At the beginning, he was playing a lot of hockey, not getting rewarded. If I’m correct, he had an eight-game point streak going. That was a big confidence booster for him. Now he’s going again. Happy that he’s playing well.”

With the big three up front all going, the Lightning should start making some ground in the standings although Southeast divisional rivals Atlanta and Carolina won’t be easy to reign in. The 13-10-1 Lightning are two points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes and five points behind the division-leading Thrashers.

“It’s going to be a dog fight,” said St. Louis. “We know our divisional games are so important. It’s a long year. Just got to keep up with the pack, try to get hot at the right time.”

The Lightning have been up and down all season but have won three straight games, hoping to finally put together a good run.

“I feel good right now. I like our team,” said St. Louis. “I think we’re deeper than before. I’m confident we’ll have a fair amount of success this year if we keep competing the way we can.”